First Followers, Second Home – Written by Ben Jacobson

  • I still remember the first time a camper corrected me on the rules of Wic Wac Woe. Will Lichtenberg and I first played Wic Wac Woe (Wizard Tic Tac Toe) on a whiteboard during staff week, inventing spirit points, fire mages, and orcs of destruction after getting sick of tying in every game of tic tac toe we played. When campers arrived, the game soon transformed into improvisational performance art, with challenges issued at meals and games played in chalk on the road, with a crowd of campers cheering us on. Despite maintaining that Wic Wac Woe was a real game with rules published online at WWW.www.com, we always created the rules as we went, inventing new pieces and generating controversy with obscure rules whose interpretations we disagreed on. Never did I imagine that the campers would pay so much attention that they would actually remember the rules we used and call us out when we inadvertently broke those rules in future games. We never intended for Wic Wac Woe to be a real game, and when I walked into the Olim chug at rest hour to find campers engaged in energetic Wic Wac Woe battles, it was one of the coolest and funniest things I’ve ever seen.

    Camp has so many amazing moments built into it. Friday night dancing, Color War, and MTV night are just a few of the experiences that campers wait all year for. To me though, what really makes the summer exciting are the little unexpected moments. I could write out full accounts of thumb appreciation day, when I sparked a movement to avoid using thumbs for an entire day in pursuit of true gratitude and appreciation for their opposable glory or the not-Easter egg hunt in which we woke up our campers at 6 in the morning to solve riddles on a scavenger hunt for raw eggs hidden around camp that we then cooked and ate together around a campfire, but eventually these stories all start to sound the same.

    Despite all the imaginative things I’ve done in my time at camp, I had a lot of trouble when I sat down to write this post. No matter what stories I told or how I told them, something just felt wrong, and I couldn’t figure out what it was. Maybe a part of it was that all my creative stories are just stupid ideas that somehow took root, but it took me a while to realize that what was bugging me most about what I’d written was that 12 years after I started a journey that would transform who I am as a person today, talking about camp only in terms of fire mages and eggs seemed to be doing CTN a great disservice. I always felt as a counselor that if a camper’s biggest takeaway from the summer was that they had fun, then in some way camp had failed them. Sure, an eleven-year-old might only think in terms of fun, but I’d like to believe that every camper can someday look back on their CTN experience and realize how profoundly impactful it was.

    I was about ready to reach out to Efraim and back out of writing a blog post, but as I made one last attempt to tie these stories together, it struck me that these stories actually sit at the core of why camp matters so much to me. As I said above, all these experiences are just stupid ideas that somehow took root, but it’s why they took root that matters. Where else but camp could someone prevent themselves from using their thumbs without being laughed at or play giant fake games on the ground in chalk without getting a few weird looks?

    At the Cornerstone Fellowship seminar two years ago, Efraim introduced me to the idea of the first follower. A leader is just a crazy person with a creative idea until that first someone decides to jump on board. Only then does the snowball get rolling and a movement get started. Wic Wac Woe was a silly, stupid idea I came up with to avoid yet another tie in a game of tic tac toe, and if Will hadn’t jumped at it immediately and begun inventing rules of his own it would have remained just that. I was just a crazy guy wearing plastic gloves with the thumbs tied off until the first camper decided to join in, and I could easily imagine all of bunk 8 tiredly and half-heartedly wandering around camp in search of eggs if the first few hadn’t decided to throw themselves energetically into the hunt. None of the creative things I or anyone else has done at camp could have been possible without the support of others, but that idea of the first follower extends well beyond imaginative moments.

    There’s no better feeling than being a camper’s first follower. Searching for that passion they think only matters to them and then nourishing it and making it your passion too until the rest of the bunk and the camp joins in. I love seeing a camper’s eyes light up when everybody crowds around, wanting to share those comic books they used to read alone on the top bunk or hearing the competitive cries of the camper who used to throw a tennis ball at the stairs by himself but is now engaged in a heated game of stepball with the new friends he met once you went over to him and asked to play.

    I’ve certainly been in the shoes of those campers. I started running cross-country in sixth grade, and always worried that the other campers would think I was weird for wanting to wake up early and run laps around camp. When my counselor agreed to get up early and run with me though, a whole training crew of campers who wanted to get up and run quickly formed. For the rest of my years at camp, I was known for my running (among other things, I’d like to believe). Damien Vosk only spent one summer at camp and probably doesn’t even remember getting up to run with me, but because he did I felt cool and empowered and like I had a place to be myself and be celebrated for it, and that’s something I’ll never forget.

    Being the first follower doesn’t have to be challenging and it doesn’t have to be extraordinary. Sometimes the most creative ideas and most impactful moments arise because one person saw something worthwhile and decided to give it a little push. Camp Tel Noar is full of those people, and as important as leaders are, it’s the first followers who take shy, awkward kids like me and send them off confident, emboldened, and proud. So, I guess what I’m really trying to say is thank you. Thank you to the people who followed me, the people I was able to follow, and the place that made it all possible.

     

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